Inside the largest economic development megasite in Georgia history

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

ELLABELL, Ga. -- Take one of the sleepier exits on I-16 west of Savannah, head past a few greasy fast-food joints and gas stations and the cinderblock church on the right until the paved road suddenly gives way to hard-packed dirt.

Then head down dusty Tar City Road in Ellabell and you’ll get a glimpse of the state’s largest strategic investments with a long political back story.

The 2,284-acre “megasite” in Bryan County, a purchase announced in May, was designed to compete with other large plots of land around the country for game-changing economic development deals that could bring tens of thousands of suppliers to Georgia.

The AJC reported Monday that Georgia is trying to recruit Rivian, an electric vehicle startup, by dangling the benefits of the Bryan County site and others closer to metro Atlanta.

It’s part of a long-range strategy to lure an automaker -- and the thousands of jobs it would generate -- to Georgia.

Georgia’s last big victory on that front came in 2006, when a bounty of state and local tax breaks worth more than $400 million helped woo Kia to put a plant in West Point, 75 miles southwest of Atlanta.

But later efforts ended in heartbreak, most notably the 2015 pursuit of a Volvo factory. Then-Gov. Nathan Deal wanted it to be his signature economic development project, and he took a number of steps to sweeten the pot.

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

He persuaded Georgia lawmakers to make it easier for state agencies to buy Georgia-made cars and championed the overhaul of an environmental agency to clear the way.

His economic development team shuttled back and forth to Volvo’s home country of Sweden and Deal flew to New York to make a final pitch.

Volvo ultimately chose South Carolina, in part because of promises of expensive infrastructure improvements and encouraging reports from executives of a nearby BMW plant.

Earlier this year, Georgia doubled-down on the site. The state took about $62 million it generated from the sale of a nearby tract of land to Amazon for a warehouse to help finance the purchase of the land with a local joint development authority. Now, the state has outright control over the site.

In the meantime, the sprawling Bryan County land remains untouched, waiting for a new suitor enticed by its location along I-16 and a heavy-duty rail line, and close to bustling ports in Savannah and Brunswick.

Could it be Rivian? We could be in the first stages of one of the most important economic development pursuits in the last decade.

On the map

The site is near Tar City Road in Ellabell, not far from I-16

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS